By Kate Kernaghan, Water Efficiency Project Communications and Media Manager, Goulburn-Murray Water

In March 2021, Goulburn-Murray Water (GMW) began delivering the Water Efficiency Project across the Goulburn-Murray Irrigation District. All construction works required as part of the $177.5 million project will be completed by the end of 2023 and are funded by the Federal Government to support the recovery of environmental water in the Murray-Darling Basin.

GMW’s Water Efficiency Project will generate 15.9GL of annual water savings by reducing water lost through evaporation, seepage and leakage in GMW’s channel system, as well as through meter error and leaks at metered outlets. The project will modernise and rationalise channels, install pipelines, automate regulators, and upgrade metered outlets.

The project follows GMW’s successful completion of the $2 billion Connections Project – Australia’s largest water savings project – recovering 433GL of water for the project’s funders and irrigators. This Water Efficiency Project builds on the Connections Project by delivering further modernisations to the GMW network, investment in the local economy and water savings for the environment.

The Water Efficiency Project has been able to leverage foundations set by the Connections Project, including experienced project team resources, experienced and local suppliers and contractors, as well as implementing proven governance and procurement arrangements.

The water savings generated by the project help Victoria to meet its obligations under the Murray-Darling Basin Plan without negatively impacting communities.

However, the project is also benefiting irrigators and the entire region. By modernising ageing infrastructure and water supply outlets, around 1,000 irrigators will receive an improved service. The modernised system will also reduce maintenance costs for GMW, which in turn keeps costs down for its customers.

The Goulburn-Murray Irrigation District is the largest irrigation network in Australia and accounts for well over half of all irrigation water used in Victoria. A more reliable and efficient water supply has flow-on effects for the region’s economy and productivity; it is estimated that the project will boost the area’s GDP by $167.5 million. The project will also create around 1,000 local jobs.

Water efficiency project near Merrigum

What does the water efficiency project involve?

The project involves treating over 250km of channels and 1,000 outlets across the Goulburn-Murray Irrigation District. As part of this, around 50km of GMW-owned pipeline, combined gravity and pumped, will be installed to reconnect existing customers.

Replacing channels with pipeline provides a more efficient level of service and a more reliable water supply, as well as effectively eliminating water leakage and seepage. In addition to these works, Dethridge wheels and manually operated regulators are being replaced with modernised infrastructure.

Installing electronic flow metres provides greater accuracy and ensures compliance with national standards while controlling the flow of water onto properties. Modernising manually operated regulators allows for better measurement and management of water flows, whilst ensuring the channels run at the correct levels.

All of these modernised regulators, and all of the irrigation metres, are linked to the Total Channel Control System, which is operated and monitored from GMW’s Tatura office. This system coordinates water flows and levels so that only the amount ordered by irrigators is supplied.

Before any construction works begin, project staff develop reconfiguration plans that show the existing assets on a channel or group of channels, and how GMW proposes to change them. These plans form the basis of consultation with landowners, whose input is used to refine the plans. Landowner engagement is critical to the success of the Water Efficiency Project, as there is often a component of private on-farm works.

The reconfiguration plans apply to the GMW water delivery system, but customers may need to be reconnected to this system via on-farm infrastructure or remodelling of farm channels, for example. The project team engages with these customers early in the process, as they need to give formal agreement for works on their land.

Lessons learned during the delivery of the Connections Program have helped the Water Efficiency Project to develop a successful landowner engagement process that is focused on transparency, adaptability and supportiveness. The project team also follows designated operational rules when making decisions during the project.

These rules are a set of principles developed for and by the Water Efficiency Project that addresses how the size of service points are determined, the level of service provided, operational and maintenance payments, voluntary dry-off, co-contributions and property consolidation.

They are designed to ensure the project develops solutions that are cost effective, consistent and meet the needs of irrigators. To minimise the project’s impact on customers, most of the construction works are scheduled during the regular winter irrigation shutdown period. However, the team has developed strategies for successfully completing works in-season without interrupting supply for affected customers.

Water efficiency project in Kerang

What works have been completed so far?

In August 2022, GMW announced that the Water Efficiency Project had reached its halfway milestone early, delivering an estimated 8GL of the targeted 15.9GL annual water savings. The project has treated over 70km of channel, installed 24km of pipeline and treated 400m of pipeline.

These works have so far improved water delivery, reliability, and efficiency for 500 customers. To date, significant packages of work have been completed in Shepparton, Lockington, Waaia, Murrabit, Kerang and surrounds with smaller works stretching from near Swan Hill to Cobram.

What’s next?

The project team is currently progressing with procurement and construction for works that will contribute to the remaining two project milestones in March and July 2023. These works include further pumped pipelines and two significant peri-urban pipelines in the vicinity of Echuca.

The project team will also continue to construct private reconnection works as agreed with affected landowners. The project is making good progress with works on track for completion in 2023 and the audit, verification and issuing of all water savings to be completed in 2024.

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